Remembering my life as a teenager brings back both good feelings and plenty of angst. I was riding the coattails of my older sisters and brothers by the time I got to high school. I was Number Eight in a family of nine. There were seven others who had blazed a trail before me. They had established themselves as good lookers, talented artists, cheerleaders or eligible males. I swam in the sea of uncertainty.
What to take for classes? Yes, I should take band because I had piano lessons since the age of seven. Yes, I should take art class because “aren’t all Thornbergs artists?” Yes, I should skip calculus and physics because only one Thornberg ever got good grades in those classes, my oldest brother, John. If you want to win the Report Card contest (and $10), you need to ace the only classes you know how: English, Creative Writing, Band and Art were no-brainers.
We always had pets. My mother’s maternal instincts ran further than her nine kids. If it was a stray, abandoned, lost or helpless, she took it in. We raised everything from hamsters to bettas, even raising brine shrimp to feed the bettas. And old age was different in those days. When your dog reached his “Old Yeller” days, your dad took him out to the back 40 and shot him. One day you came home from school and Yoodle just wasn’t there any more. A >22 shot to the head, buried in the backyard and it was done. I know this sounds really tough to today’s kids, but that was how it was in my day. My parents chose thousands of dollars for our teeth over thousands of dollars for our dogs.
Sometimes I took time after school to watch my big sister, Candace on her hands and knees, designing posters for school pride. Not only did I NOT want to ever be on my hands and knees doing that, I couldn’t imagine why she did. There she was, dressed in her striped cheerleader uniform, on the court for Homecoming Queen, working with tempera paints. It all seemed messy to me.
My brother Dan was also a school artist, painting larger-than-life paintings of the Clear Lake Lions defeating the Humboldt Wildcats or Algona Bulldogs. Those paintings remained in the CLHS gym for more than twenty years. Not only was he talented, he was good looking and every girl wanted to date him.
My younger sister, Janet was also a cheerleader, ran with the popular girls and posed for many pictures. She was my wing-man. I knew I could count on her to defend me in any case, supply me with every need, cover me with a plausible alibi for the parents, and divert any unwanted male attention. Most of the guys I landed in high school thought they were dating my sister, Janet, and were so surprised when they learned she had a sister.
Me? I had big boobs. That was it for all my high school assets.
I have vague memories of my older sisters sitting in front of their round-mirrored dressers, hair piled high with curlers, and the smell of hairspray coating the room. One of my older brothers nicknamed one of my older sisters, “Tin Mina,” because her hair was so often stacked up with bobby pins. I also have the vaguest of memories of my dad getting me dressed for school. I was half asleep and pile-driven into warm leotards before I was even awake. My older siblings remember this: If you need to wake Sheryl up, just put her in the high chair and let her fall out a couple times.
In our house, if you didn’t get up early enough, all the good cereals were gone. This is why Janet and I stuff our cheeks with food to this day. The boys got up early, scarfed breakfast down, and all we little ones got was a half-sliced grapefruit and the bottom of the Total box.
So, little wonder that when I graduated from high school, I threw my hat higher into the air than anyone else. Life began for me, even when others felt it had ended.
That’s another story. And I have miles to go before I sleep.